D.R.: Our professor from VR
Bill Jensen, head of Vail Mountain and co-president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division, dropped by the paper last week for one of our Vail Daily Institute sessions.
This is our fancy name for in-house education, which we try to do at least monthly and I like to have a couple of times a month.
Sometimes we discuss journalism or do some similar job training. Often we invite people in to talk with us.
Vail Resorts, of course, is the company in the company town. Even with the corporate headquarters about to move to the Boulder area. And Jensen very soon will be the top guy from the company in the company town. He’s not just a good guy. He’s a very good guy for the paper to know. And I suppose that goes the other way, too, considering the rather remarkable reach of this paper.
Anyway, so we invited him to give us insights about Vail Resorts, how VR looks at the press and especially some tips to better understand their finances. God love the journalists, but these are all people who ducked math in college.
Jensen did all that. We learned a little more about how the paper comes across to the community, which sees the work without insight into the internal decision-making and culture. I think my crew got a little better sense of how ski company execs decide when and how much information to provide to the public about their issues. And I know I understand a little more about how to establish the worth of companies such as VR, and the value of cash flow.
He tells great little stories, too. Best way to learn, I think. Engage the imagination and all things are possible. So we learned about service on the mountain, selling snowcats and how a small shop owner thinks in this session, too.
With Jensen, I’ve learned, you always get a little more than the subject at hand when he speaks. So it was this time, too. He spoke about values and effort.
What are your values? He asked. How do you show them to the public? Do you live by them? Are they written somewhere so a journalist or copy editor can look up and match a decision to the paper’s values?
Well, we have a fair number of slogans and mission and vision and similar statements. In the newsroom, we do talk about working for readers constantly and rather chronically. What they want, what they need and especially how to engage them. Capture the imagination, I exhort. That’s the ticket.
It’s not quite the same as pleasing them, though, as we would a “customer.” Customers must be satisfied.
I’m not saying we should go about trying to anger readers. But news as such is a reflection of reality, and reality is not necessarily pretty or satisfying. Some the reality we should pay the most attention to is ugly, sad, decidedly unsatisfying, downright painful and even sometimes tragic. Shall we flinch, duck, downplay. Or are we so concerned about not doing so that we overcompensate the other way and wind up sensationalizing coverage beyond its rightful place?
Doing the right thing doesn’t mean readers are satisfied. Folks can be mad as hell at us for doing precisely right. They can be well-pleased with us doing exactly wrong. Reaction is not necessarily a good guide. And, of course, that’s part of what makes this career so fascinating.
Anyway, Jensen shared another bit of wisdom about effort. On Vail Mountain, when a task is done, he exhorts everyone to ask themselves this last question: Would it make a difference if I put 2 percent more into this? If so, do it.
It’s a great little question. Simple, memorable and perfectly nagging. That’s the line that I hope sticks with all of us.
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